“You expect me to drink that?”
Let’s face it, that’s what we are all thinking when attend our first-ever olive oil tasting and a small vial of grassy-gold liquid sits before us. We are virgins in olive oil tasting. Or extra virgins, you could say. We’ve all done more than our fair share of wine tasting during our stay in Mendoza, but there is something weird about being expected to drink – or, OK, sip – an oil.
And yet why don’t we pay more attention to the olive oil we consume? Almost everyone reading this will consider it a kitchen staple. Buy a bad one and you can ruin a perfectly fresh salad; buy a good one to serve with bread and it’s the simplest way to get a “wow” at a dinner party.
In Argentina, don’t be misled by the cheap supermarket offerings or the bog standard bottle at your corner parilla. There is plenty of award-winning stuff out there. Earlier this year, La Nación newspaper said that Argentina has its sights set on striking out against European domination in the field, much as it is has with wine.
Hot off the press: it takes eight kilos of olives to make one litre of oil
Photo by cjette on Flickr
Tasting events, such as the one mentioned above, are also on the rise. Last month, Buenos Aires’s stylish members’ bar The Clubhouse sent out an email to its members inviting them to an olive oil event, arranged by Bodega Familia Zuccardi. It was deemed a success and more are planned. Could this be an emerging trend? The Tupperware party of the 2010s?
Getting creative: olive oil-based cuisine by Bodega Familia Zuccardi
Photo by rei-san on Flickr
And what about olive oil tourism? San Rafael now has an olive oil museum and Mendoza has the country’s first olive-oil themed restaurant, Verolio. Verolio, which resembles a cross between an almacén (warehouse) and a country kitchen, offers a 30-peso tasting deal, which includes three oils and a glass of wine, plus homemade olive-oil mayonnaise, tapenade and fresh bread. “I opened it out of necessity,” says Verolio owner Veronica Sottano. “There was so much vinoculture here, but no one was paying attention to the province’s second most-important product.”
Camila Sciaini, who works for the sommelier division of Familia Zuccardi, says bodegas are also doing a lot of work to bring their oil ranges to new audiences, and most people she sees at tastings are first-timers. “Many are surprised when I suggest they drink a bit and treat it like wine,” she says. “But then the response is really positive.”
Top Tips for Olive Oil Tasting
When it comes to wine-tasting, most of us can now fake it by swirling the glass or mumbling about the “nose”. But an olive-oil session takes us back to square one. Want some tips on what to say and do? Here’s the Real Argentina’s guide to bluffing it:
- Don’t just go straight for a glug. Pour a small amount in a glass and warm it in the palm of your hand to release the aroma. Much like with wine, you’ll be expected to say what you smell.
- Look at the production date. Olive oil should be consumed within a year. It’s technically a fruit juice and, unlike wine, starts to die as soon as it is bottled. If someone talks about a good vintage bottle of olive oil, they are worse bluffers than you.
- If you start coughing, don’t be embarrassed like you were with your first teenage drag of a cigarette. A cough or a slight burn at the back of the throat is a sign of a high-quality oil.
- What qualities should you be looking for in the taste? Here is a list of tasting terms to help you describe olive oil flavours. If you’re getting notes of cucumber and blue cheese, it’s not a good sign.
- Ripe olives tend to create an oil that is buttery, floral, or tropical. Unripe/green olives can lead to flavours that are grassy or artichokey.
- Finally, here is a very short round-up from a chef. He’s Italian, so take the part where he says all the good stuff only comes from Italy with an Argentinian-sized pinch of salt.
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